Written by Art Is Essential

Art Is Essential vol. 7

Writers on the art that matters to them.

Drawing Through the Pandemic

Peter Vanderberg

One rainy pandemic day, in an attempt to keep my four kids (and myself) sane, I tried “Drawing Time.” With Miles Davis on the turntable and some art books spread across the coffee table, my kids began paging through for inspiration, or at least distraction. Lucas, my seven-year-old, took an interest in Kimon Nicolaïdes’s The Natural Way to Draw. I had nearly forgotten about this classic drawing text, but quickly turned to my favorite assignment – “The Daily Composition.” 

In simple yet urgent language, Nicolaïdes instructs us to make a quick gesture sketch from memory of “the human being in relation to his environment.” This assignment held new meaning for me in the current reality of masks and social distancing. The part that gets me every time is where Nicolaides, a famous teacher from the Art Students League of New York, offers, “These compositions do not have to be right. They can be all wrong. THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO DO THEM…” His words are, at once, infinitely forgiving and yet firmly determined. Nicolaïdes is the teacher I need right now. 

The pages that follow offer several quick compositions from a frantic Study for Guernica by Picasso, to an airy Don Quixote by Daumier. Each of these drawings is masterful in its own ways, but also rough and free. They invite the student to begin drawing immediately.

Inspired to reclaim fifteen minutes each day, I decided to take up The Daily Composition. I shared this assignment with my brothers (both artists), and we began trading our daily sketches, along with encouragement and some good-natured banter. 

The Daily Composition has grounded my days and helped to clear my scattered mind. These drawings have helped me to stop and really look at my kids playing, my wife gardening, and my neighbors going about their lives at a safe distance. Nicolaïdes’s assignment is in itself a work of art that continues to sustain me and inspires us all, despite the pandemic, to make our own small, daily works of art.

Peter Vanderberg is a teacher and writer on Long Island, NY. He is the editor of Ghostbird Press.

Kimon Nicolaïdes (1891-1938) was a Greek-American art teacher and artist. He served in the United States Army during World War I as a camoflogue artist.

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